Guest Speaker J. H. (Yossi) Chajes

Saturday, January 13, 2018 • 26 Tevet 5778

All Day

J. H. (Yossi) Chajes (Ph.D., Yale University 1999) is a professor of Jewish History at the University of Haifa and the director of its Center for the Study of Jewish Cultures. A former recipient of Fulbright, Rothschild, Wexner, and Hartman Fellowships, Yossi has also been visiting professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, thrice visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a fellow at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem. His first book, Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism (2003) was listed by the Wall Street Journal in 2013 as among the top five books ever written on spirit possession, alongside Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun. Yossi has published innovative essays on a wide variety of topics in medieval and especially early modern cultural history. His studies have explored the mystical religious of Jewish women, the autobiographical writing of Jews before the advent of the modern genre, the history of Jewish attitudes towards magic, and, most recently, the visual materials of the Kabbalah. Yossi currently directs the Israel Science Foundation-supported “Ilanot Project” (—an ambitious and unprecedented attempt to catalogue and describe all kabbalistic diagrams. Many of Yossi’s publications may be found at Yossi studied with — and served as the keyboardist of — R. Shlomo Carlebach for many years. His skills as a chazzan and folk singer have brought him to Jewish communities around the world. Yossi was the founding chazzan of London’s revolutionary Grassroots Jews High Holiday initiative, and has led Days of Awe services for Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox communities in the USA, the UK, the UAE, and Israel, for over a decade. Yossi is married to Julie, is the father of five children (Ktoret, Levana, Yoel, Nehora, and Yishai), and lives with his family in Zichron Yaaqov, Israel. Topics: 1) Kabbalah 101 It seems that "Kabbalah" is everywhere these days, from rock stars to rabbis. In this session, Dr. Chajes will provide a concise 'Ted-style" introduction to the history and basic concepts of the Kabbalah 2) Abracadabra: Can Magic Be Jewish? 3) Exorcists, Dybbuks, Demons, Oh My 4) The Old New Age: Jewish and Christian Kabbalah in the Seventeenth Century Christians took an interest in Kabbalah as early as the thirteenth century, but typically with conversionary motives. Jews, they imagined, might be convinced of the truth of Christianity if the Kabbalah could be used to prove it. Because of this, Kabbalah became a kind of ecumenical project at this historical moment; although fleeting, its influence may be detected even today. 5) Kabbalah and the Visualizing of the Invisible Complex graphical scrolls have been a genre of kabbalistic literature in their own right since the Renaissance, and from the late seventeenth century were indispensable to kabbalists. We will explore the origins and functions of this little-known genre through close examination of these beautiful artifacts. 6) Kabbalistic Cartography: Mapping the Divine in the Jewish Mystical Tradition Remember the idea that Jews aren't allow to represent the Deity graphically? Enjoy a lecture, full of incredible visual examples, of the history of mapping the Godhead in the Jewish mystical tradition. This session will explore in more detail the kabbalistic maps and diagrams discussed. 7) Unseen Seers: Recovering the Women Mystics of Jewish History. The great historian of Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem famously asserted that there were no women kabbalists. In this session, Yossi will show how Scholem was right in particular, but wrong in general. If women were not, as a rule, producers or consumers of kabbalistic texts, Jewish women were nevertheless to be found among our mystics. We will study materials that allow us to reconstruct the circle of women mystics in sixteenth-century Safed. 8) Imagining Cosmic Torah Most of us grew up with a notion of Judaism as a "religion of reason," that left myth & magic behind in Biblical times. In this presentation, we will examine the history of this very concept in Judaism and explore the consequences of accepting and even celebrating these long-denied mythic & magical dimensions of Judaism. If myths are understood as divine stories that express something about life's meanings that logic (logos) never quite could, what do Jewish myths tell us about Jewish "meanings of life?" 9) Jewish Magic, Magical Judaism Isn't magic forbidden by the Torah? And isn't it forbidden because it doesn't even exist? In this session, we'll discover the much more nuanced reality of the place of magic in the Bible & Rabbinic Judaism Sacred Music and the Faces of Contemporary Jewish Spirituality. 10) The Surprising Aftermath of the Self-Proclaimed Messiah of 1666 In 1666, the entire Jewish world was caught up in messianic frenzy over Shabbetai Sevi - until his conversion to Islam. The fascinating ideas that this messianic movement generated had a long and significant afterlife in the Jewish world. We will explore the various ways in which Sabbatianism lived, and lives on. 11) The State of the Spirit: A Discussion of Spiritual Trends in Israel Today For the better part of a century, the Land, and subsequently the State of Israel largely sufficed with two labels for the religious orientation of its Jews: Dati ("religious") and Hiloni ("secular"). However, this dichotomy has gradually given way to a rather more complex spectrum. We will discuss this trend and the political consequences for Israeli society.

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